Student and Teacher Resource Team members. Back (L-R): Andrea Hansen, counselor; Beth Shapiro, director; Dana Provus, teaching and learning specialist; and Amanda Awend, learning facilitator. Front: Whitney Greiffenstein, team facilitator; Maddie Meza, learning facilitator; and Sara Bernstein, Hebrew language resource specialist.
By Dr. Dan Ahlstrom
A recent Star Tribune article discussed the rise in chronic absenteeism in Minnesota schools due to factors like mental health issues, exacerbated by the pandemic. Thankfully, here at Heilicher we are not following this trend in absenteeism. However, we are seeing the challenges our students are facing due to anxiety, ADHD, and executive function development.
As some Heilicher students have struggled since the pandemic, we’ve opted to take a proactive, systemwide approach to serve the needs of our school community. This approach was outlined during our recent Back-to-School Night, and we are eager to provide more insight. This summer, we launched our Student and Teacher Resource Team under the guidance of experienced psychotherapist Beth Shapiro. Rather than “blow up” what we had in place, we’ve opted to “glow up” as we move students out of the pandemic’s survival mode and help them thrive by offering a proactive and nurturing environment.
Our new model is a more formalized system than we’ve had in the past, which helps us better allocate the resources that exist to meet student needs. Our resource team provides coaching and support to teachers, while also helping clarify and execute whole-school priorities around education design to meet the diverse needs of students. The team focuses on identifying the social and academic needs of individual students, providing one-on-one support as well as tailored small groups.
What does that look like in a school setting? One great example is the student who is struggling with anxiety and focus. It usually starts with a parent or teacher flagging that the student is having challenges. Our team observes that child in the classroom to better understand their individual needs. They also seek feedback from teachers. Our resource team then offers teachers — and even parents — suggestions to address the problems. Monitoring of the student follows, and we work to build trust between that child and our resource team, continuing to fine-tune the plan as the student’s needs change, grow, or recede. A deeper commitment to consistent communication — we’d already met with 95% of parents who were being serviced last year for one-on-ones in just the first weeks of school — is a hallmark of the program.
Our one-on-one approach to dealing with the unique needs of each student is critical to the ongoing success of this program. It also requires continued partnership between parents, teachers, and our resource team. Some parents have asked whether there are specific warning signs that your child may be struggling. In addition to teacher or student feedback about academic struggles, the list below is a good starting point for other concerns. If you are noticing any of the following warning signs, I encourage you to reach out to Beth and her team.
- Has there been a change in your child’s baseline behavior over a period of two weeks or more? For example, has your usually talkative kid become quiet and withdrawn, or has your voracious eater become picky?
- Are they having difficulty getting and staying asleep or sleeping much longer than normal?
- Are you noticing a significant change in socializing or independence? Either suddenly refusing your engagement or suddenly depending on caregivers for much more?
- Does your child express a great deal of worry or fear that doesn't ease after a specific accomplishment, or sadness not tied to any specific life event?
- Is your child feeling unheard or unseen in their peer group or community?
Beth also shares this simple guide to help parents watch for problems (one also used with infants):
HALT: Is your child unusually Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired? Typically, any of these issues raise concern when they persist over two weeks or more. However, you know your child best, and we are happy to hear from you about any concern.
This focused and multidisciplinary approach is just one of the offerings that makes Heilicher unique in today’s changing academic landscape.